Wearable technology is one of the buzziest phrases of 2014 – if you pay a gram of attention to tech, you can’t escape it – but while the buzz may be strong, the actual products leave a whole lot to be desired.
Watches that need your smartphone to do anything ‘smart’, actual smartwatches the size of cinder blocks, another batch of bracelets that let you know you’re sleeping, and smug geeks in Googley glasses – it’s all bark and no bite.
As easy as it is to dismiss it as a fad, however, the writing seems to be on the wall: wearables are here to stay and soon we’ll all be dangling and draping them on various parts of our bodies, every day.
Mobile phones were once every bit as big, awkward and expensive as full-blown smartwatches and smart glasses are today. Surely Australians scoffed at them the same way we scoff at early wearables now.
“I already have a phone at home, why would I carry that thing around,” we’d say, voices thick with contempt.
Thing is, it didn’t take all that much for us to start carrying mobiles around. A blend of smaller form, affordable price, intuitive interface and gear envy among our peers, and now we can’t go more than a couple minutes without peeking at our phones.
The number of mobiles in Australia surpassed the population in 2007 and, according to a report released by the Australian Communications and Media Authority last year, roughly half of those phones are now smartphones.
Wearable technology is set to prove itself much that same way and it’s poised to do in a much shorter timeframe, thanks to the heightened pace of technological evolution.
Consider a potential next-generation smartwatch with a thin, flexible display wrapped comfortably around your wrist, packing all the power, function and screen space of today’s smartphone.
Your phone is always within view, and you can stay on top of all your calls, texts, emails and social media updates all day long.
Suddenly the pants, pocket or purse looks as far away as that old, reliable landline-tethered home phone.
Flexible organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology has already been demonstrated, and designers have already dreamed up futuristic-looking phone-bracelets that aren’t all that far off in the future.
According to one wearable start-up CEO we chatted with recently, such smartwatches are already in the works.
Fitness, health and sports devices are currently driving the growth of the wearables market, and those, too, are fast becoming more powerful and more comfortable to wear.
Accessories like watches, wristbands and heart rate straps still hold the lion’s share of the market, but textile-based sensors are blending fitness tracking directly into clothing.
Someday soon, we’ll the leave the bracelets, phone-cradling armbands and chest straps in the past, relying on shirts, shorts, shoes and socks to do all our tracking.
Last year, the textile sensors we came across were the domain of research and development, but this year, they power several commercially available or soon-to-be available products, including Sensoria Fitness Socks and Mbody smart shorts.
In addition to being more natural than fitness watches and bands (you’ll probably wear clothing at the gym anyway), smart clothing conforms more closely to the body, providing deeper feedback and analysis.
Sensoria socks don’t just provide speed, distance and steps, for instance; they also give you information about your foot form and running technique. With this data, you can learn how to change poor techniques to avoid injury and improve performance.
As young and clunky as wearable tech is today, it’s already evolving into something that many people are going to embrace.
In just a few years, Australians will indeed be draping chip- and sensor-stuffed garments, jewellry and accessories all over their bodies, enjoying functions and features we can’t yet even imagine.
Lead image LadyGeekTV / Flickr